When you first get a puppy, one of the most common pieces of advice you’ll hear is, “They need to be socialized!”
Many well-meaning puppy owners misunderstand what it truly means to socialize a puppy, causing fear and behavior problems instead of preventing them.
Here’s what most people get wrong about socializing a puppy – and what you should do instead:
Myth #1: You shouldn’t socialize your puppy until they have received all of their vaccinations.
Depending on your vet’s recommended vaccination schedule, your puppy may not be fully vaccinated until they’re 16 weeks or older.
Parvovirus, distemper and bordella are highly contagious. Your puppy may be exposed if you take them for a walk in an area frequented by other dogs. Avoid dog parks, city sidewalks and roads. Disease is often passed through body fluids and feces – keep your puppy away from unknown droppings!
You can carry parvovirus into your home on your shoes and clothes, so take extra care when walking around in areas that may harbor the virus, even if you don’t take your puppy with you.
With that said, there’s little risk in areas in which there are no sick animals. It’s okay to take your puppy to meet other people or a trusted friend’s healthy dog for a play date.
Myth #2: Your puppy has to make friends with everyone they meet.
Socializing isn’t just about making friends. It also includes tolerating other dogs and remaining calm, instead of pulling at the leash and barking up a storm every time they see a new “friend.”
Meetings with other dogs can often go sour. This is especially true when you and your puppy walk up to another dog during an on-leash walk. Many dogs get along well off-leash, but feel more insecure when leashed and may act aggressively towards your puppy.
A bad experience with another dog can leave a lasting impression on them. When introducing two dogs, make sure to watch out for tense body language – staring, stiffness and growling are all signs to end the interaction.
Myth #3: You can only socialize a puppy; once they’re an adult, it’s too late.
It’s true that it’s best to socialize early. Exposing your puppy to positive experiences will make it easier to avoid behavioral problems down the road. But you can also socialize an adult dog, whether they have had negative experiences or simply have not been exposed to many people, dogs and environments.
The goal for adult socialization is the same: to expose your dog to positive experiences so they can be calm and unafraid of new people, dogs and environments. You can use counter-conditioning to help reverse existing fears.
Myth #4: Socialization is only about meeting other dogs and people.
Socialization is also about getting your puppy used to being handled by other people. It also means teaching your puppy to focus on you and remember their training.
It’s normal for a well-socialized puppy to feel scared or insecure. It’s your goal to make your puppy feel as safe as possible, and teach them to look to you when they’re unsure, instead of reacting by barking or running away from whatever is scaring them.
Myth #5: Dogs need to face their fears.
This is probably the most dangerous myth about socialization. Overwhelming your dog by trying too much at once can create or worsen fears. This is known as flooding.
Dogs cannot learn when they are over-threshold – too fearful, too distracted or too reactive to respond to the sound of your voice. If your puppy is wary of small children, being passed around at a birthday party would be a nightmare for them.
Grow Up Puppy with Ready Pet Go
Puppyhood is the perfect time for your puppy to get used to spending time with their dog walker or pet sitter. A professional pet sitter will quickly make friends with your puppy and help them feel better about spending time away from you.